|Kevin Donohoe | Saturday 26 February 2011
As the standoff between the Main Street Movement and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) continues for the twelfth day, much of the media coverage — and anger — from both sides has focused on Walker’s efforts to strip Wisconsin public workers of their right to collective bargaining. But Walker’s assault on public employees is only one part of a larger political program that aims to give corporations free reign in the state while dismantling the healthcare programs, environmental regulations, and good government laws that protect Wisconsin’s middle and working class. These lesser known proposals in the 144-page bill reveal how radical Walker’s plan actually is:
1. ELIMINATING MEDICAID: The Budget Repair Bill includes a little-known provision that would put complete control of the state’s Medicaid program, known as BadgerCare, in the hands of the state’s ultra-conservative Health and Human Services Secretary Dennis Smith. Smith would have the authority to “to override state Medicaid laws as [he] sees fit and institute sweeping changes” including reducing benefits and limiting eligibility. Ironically, during the 1990s it was Republicans, especially former Gov. and Bush HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who helped develop BadgerCare into one of the country’s most innovative and generous Medicaid programs. A decade later, a new generation of radical Republicans is hoping to destroy one of Wisconsin’s “success stories.”
2. POWER PLANT PRIVATIZATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL NEGLECT: The same budget bill calls for a rapid no-bid “firesale” of all state-owned power plants. One progressive blogger called the proposal “a highlight reel of all of the tomahawk dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism” and suggested that the provision will open the way for large, politically connected corporations to buy up the state’s power plants on the cheap. While it’s unclear whether corporations would be interested in buying the plants, a similar proposal was vetoed six years ago by Gov. Jim Doyle (D), who called the plan fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. Many of Wisconsin’s power plants are in violation of federal clean air regulations and desperately need to be upgraded and cleaned up — not dumped into the private sector.
3. DANGEROUS DRINKING WATER: Republican lawmakers have introduced bills in both the Senate and the House which would repeal a rule requiring municipal governments to disinfect their water. Conservatives have said that the clean water rule — which went into effect in December — is simply too expensive. Yet the rule only affects 12 percent of municipalities and the price may be worth it. In 1993, 104 people died and 400,000 fell sick when the Milwaukee water supply became infected. Even two decades later, the Environmental Protection Agency Advisory Board notes that 13 percent of acute gastro-intestinal illnesses in municipalities that don’t disinfect their water supplies are the result of dirty water. Municipalities can keep their water clean for as low as $10,000 per well — but apparently for the Wisconsin GOP that is too high a price to pay to keep citizens safe from deadly microorganisms.
4. DESTROYING WETLANDS: In January, Walker’s proposed regulatory reform bill exempted a parcel of wetland owned by a Republican donor from water quality standards. But the exemption was more than just an embarrassing giveaway to a GOP ally: environmental groups believe the bill’s special provision would actually affect the entire county, eliminating public hearings on proposed wetland development, short-circuiting approval of development projects, and disrupting the region’s water system.
5. FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY: Walker signed a bill this week requiring a 2/3 supermajority in the legislature to pass any tax increase. Republican lawmakers are now reportedly considering a constitutional amendment that would make the rule permanent. A similar constitutional amendment in California has been called the “source of misery” of that state’s crippling budget crisis and has forced lawmakers to “gut public education, slash social services and health care programs, close prisons, and lay off record numbers of public employees.” While claiming to “make a commitment to the future instead of [choosing] dire consequences for our children” Walker and GOP lawmakers are instead putting generations of Wisconsinites in a “fiscal strait-jacket.”
6. DISENFRANCHISING VOTERS: This week, Republican lawmakers moved forward on a bill that would require voters to present a photo ID from the DMV at the polls, making it significantly more difficult for the elderly, the disabled, college students, and rural residents to participate in elections. While Republican lawmakers insist the bill is necessary to prevent voter fraud, there have been almost no documented cases of fraudulent voting in the state. Instead, the Wisconsin State Journal writes, the GOP bill is going “overboard in limiting ballot access in a state proud of its long history of high participation in elections.”
7. CUTTING JOBS, LOSING THE FUTURE: Last fall, Walker killed an $810 billion federally funded high-speed rail project, forcing the Transportation Department to pull its funding. Walker’s decision killed 130,000 expected jobs and forced the Spanish company Talgo to close its Milwaukee factory and layoff its 40 person staff. A spokeswoman for the company told The Daily Reporter that “the state’s decision to back away from the high-speed rail project sends a terrible message to businesses considering locating in the state.”
8. STIFLING INNOVATION: In late January, Walker introduced a bill that would ban wind-powered energy from Wisconsin and exacerbate the state’s dependence on out-of-state coal. If passed, it’s estimated that the law would immediately eliminate $1.8 billion in new wind power investments and jeopardize eleven currently proposed wind projects. After a public outcry earlier this month, Walker’s bill is (for now) dead.
9. “NAKED POWER GRAB”: Earlier this month in a party-line vote, the legislature ceded “extraordinary control” of the state’s rule-making oversight process to the governor. Walker now has complete power to draft agency rules which the legislature must then either approve or reject. The law gives Walker the power to write rules for formerly independent state agencies like the state Departments of Justice and Education — and most ominously the Government Accountability Board, the state’s ethics watchdog.
10. POLITICIZING STATE AGENCIES: A provision in Walker’s budget repair bill would convert thirty-seven state employees from civil servants to political appointees — consolidating his power over state government and expanding his power to “hire, fire and move key employees to carry out his agenda.”
Since his inauguration just two months ago, Walker and the Wisconsin GOP have taken unprecedented action to undermine the state’s unions, environmental regulations, long-term fiscal health, social welfare programs and basic democratic structure. As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said Tuesday, Walker has stopped acting like the Republican governor of a Midwestern state and has instead “basically taken on the position of a dictator” with a “vision of America that’s similar to somewhere like Nigeria or Pakistan.”